The 2013 Mutua Madrid Open has already seen the two biggest stars in men's tennis fall—Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The World No. 1 Djokovic lost in Round 2 to promising youngster Grigor Dimitrov, while Federer bowed out in the Round of 16 against No. 14 seed Kei Nishikori.
Thus, the road seems to be paved for Rafael Nadal, the "King of Clay," to live up to his moniker and win yet another title on the surface at the Magic Box.
There are still plenty of world-class players remaining, though, and Friday's quarterfinals will present some extremely enticing clashes to watch. Below are predictions as to how each match will play out.
Note: Past match information and statistics, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.
(3) Andy Murray vs. (6) Tomas Berdych
Frenchman Gilles Simon gave Murray all he could handle in Round 3, but the highest remaining seed in the tournament ultimately prevailed. After dropping the first set 2-6, Murray rallied to win the next two 6-4 and 7-6, with an 8-6 tiebreaker.
The aforementioned loss by Federer and the mettle of Murray paid off in the ATP rankings, as David McDaid of BBC Radio documented:
Murray is the new No. 2 in the world, while Berdych comes in slightly fresher and off a straight-sets win over Kevin Anderson.
The biggest asset at Berdych's disposal is typically his mammoth serve, but Murray's fitness and athleticism allows him to be a phenomenal returner. That should neutralize Berdych in that regard, and may cause the 27-year-old to press the action.
It should be another hotly contested match. However, Murray should once again triumph and find himself a spot in the semifinals in two hard-fought sets.
Prediction: Murray wins in two sets.
(4) David Ferrer vs. (5) Rafael Nadal
The battle between Spanish compatriots promises to be a grinding affair, as both players cover an incredible amount of court. Nadal's big advantage is his far superior power, which Ferrer historically hasn't been able to overcome.
Ferrer got the better of Nadal in their first encounter in Stuttegart, Germany back in 2004. Since then, Nadal rattled off 14 consecutive victories over Ferrer on clay.
Home crowd sentiment is sure to be stirring in this match, with mutual support for these relentless competitors felt throughout.
Though Ferrer is the higher seed, it's pretty clear that Nadal is the favorite. The second of his four singles titles in 2013 came at the ATP Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, where he demolished Ferrer 6-0, 6-2 in the final.
With such a favorable semifinal matchup awaiting and a clear return to form from Nadal, he should advance rather easily without dropping a set.
Prediction: Nadal wins in two sets.
(7) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. (15) Stanislas Wawrinka
There has to be at least some momentum on Wawrinka's side after he overcame a loss in the first set to Dimitrov—the young man who knocked off Djokovic—to reach the quarterfinals.
Tsonga, meanwhile, has always had the talent to be among the world's elite players, but hasn't quite gotten to the next level throughout his career. Another golden opportunity presents itself here, as Tsonga has the slight edge in terms of natural ability.
Having said that, Wawrinka has immense talent of his own, and just hasn't been able to get past tennis' titans in the past.
These two last met in the quarterfinals at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Tsonga emerged with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory. That only heightens the intensity that will already surround this match.
Both men tend to be aggressive on the court—sometimes to a fault. Since both aren't playing one of the game's marquee players, this should be an exciting battle.
I like Wawrinka to pull off a slight upset, since he's a better all-around player. He'll progress to the semifinals and attempt to prove himself against Murray again, whom he beat at the aforementioned event in Monte Carlo.
Prediction: Wawrinka wins in three sets.
(14) Kei Nishikori vs. Pablo Andujar
After a 6-4 win in the opening set against Federer, it seemed Nishikori was going to crash down to Earth after dropping the next 6-1. That wasn't the case, though, as the precocious Japanese 23-year-old crushed the Fed 6-2 in the deciding subsequent set.
Wilson Tennis was pleased with Nishikori's breakthrough, even though it came at the expense of its most prolific player in Federer:
Meanwhile, his unseeded opponent, Pablo Andujar, advanced courtesy of his third-round opponent retiring when the match was even at five apiece.
The Spaniard Andujar will more than likely have the crowd on his side, which may not have been the case had Federer advanced. This could be the time that Nishikori is truly turning the corner in his career, however, and it's hard not to like his chances of coming out on top.
There's always the threat of a letdown, and while the fans should give Andujar some hope, he won't be able to get more than one set off of Nishikori.
Prediction: Nishikori wins in three sets.